This article is part of the Mercury's 2020 all-digital Queer Week coverage.
In Notes of a Native Son, James Baldwin writes, “I am what time, circumstance, history, have made of me, certainly, but I am, also, much more than that.” These words could be used to describe any LGBTQ+ writer, but perhaps best define queer Black authors living in America. This list below highlights a sampling of essential literature—everything from memoirs to science fiction—from Black LGBTQ+ writers over the past decades.
Real Life (2020) — Brandon Taylor
This new novel follows the story oa f Black queer man who leaves Alabama to attend college in the Midwest, where he tangles with homophobia, racism, insecurity, and the pursuit of self-preservation.
Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (1982) — Audre Lorde
A peek into Lorde’s experience as a queer, working class Black woman living in New York City during the 1950s—all told in Lorde’s lush, poetic writing style.
No Ashes in the Fire (2018) — Darnell Moore
An honest, vulnerable memoir describing Moore’s life as gay Black boy coming of age in Camden, New Jersey during the crosshairs of the AIDS epidemic and the War on Drugs.
Redefining Realness (2014) — Janet Mock
While some criticize Mock’s attachment to heteronormative norms in her memoir, her book is groundbreaking in its ability to talk candidly about navigating the world as a transgender woman of color. A good read for folks who need a little hand-holding in understanding what it means to be trans.
Sweet Tea: Black Gay Men of the South (2008) — E. Patrick Johnson
This non-fiction book is made up of stories collected from more than sixty Black gay men who were born, raised, and live in the South. The collection twists stereotypes and adds nuance to a population that rarely is handed the mic.
Black Girl Dangerous: On Race, Queerness, Class and Gender (2014) — Mia McKenzie
This non-fiction collection of personal essays about being a queer Black woman is the essential guide to understanding intersectionality (and it’s funny, too!).
Wow, No Thank You (2020) — Samantha Irby
Irby’s latest collection of essays artfully use self-deprecation and wiping-tears-from-your-eyes humor to tell deeper stories about privilege, gender, and existing in uncomfortable spaces.
Black Panther: World of Wakanda (series) (2016) — Roxanne Gay (et al)
This comic series, co-authored by Gay and Ta-Nehisi Coates tells the story of the badass queer Black women who work as Black Panther's bodyguards. ENOUGH SAID.
Parable of the Sower (2000) — Octavia Butler
This science fiction novel set in a dystopian world drowning in social, economical, and environmental crises is just as relevant—maybe more—than it was when it was published 20 years ago. Imagine The Road, but with a teenage heroine, uncomfortably relatable scenes of social collapse, and longer sentences.
American Dreams (poetry collection) (1996) — Sapphire
Before writing the novel that became the film Precious, Sapphire poured pain, love, and rage into these beautifully brutal poems on racism, sexual trauma, and police brutality.
Lot (2019) — Bryan Washington
This conversational collection of short stories dissects gender, sexuality, class, and race through the eyes of a Black Latinx boy coming of age in Houston, in the years surrounding Hurricane Harvey.
The Salt Roads (2003) — Nalo Hopkinson
Hopkinson weaves the story of a Haitian slave, an Egyptian sex worker, a Parisian dancer and several other women together in a whirlwind novel spanning time and seeped in magical realism.
Felix Every After (YA novel) (2020) — Kacen Callender
This Young Adult novel follows Felix, a Black, queer, and transgender teen, as he pines for romance and self-acceptance. One of many new, spectacular YA novels with a trans teen protagonist.
How We Fight for Our Lives: A Memoir (2019) — Saeed Jones
Jones melts together poetry and prose in this memoir, which documents his tumultuous, tender adolescence as a Black gay boy growing up in Texas.
Notes of a Native Son (1955) — James Baldwin
Baldwin’s first collection of non-fiction essays focus on civil rights, art, and racial divides in Harlem and abroad. An accessible, powerful point of entry for Baldwin newbies.